Swing Vote

Asian Americans Are The Country’s Fastest Growing Swing Vote

Growing rapidly as a community and up for grabs, Asian Americans are deciding elections around the country.

Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

The Asian American outreach desk at the Republican National Committee is uncorking the champagne over the results of the midterm elections—not only did these communities vote more favorably for the GOP than in previous elections, but they’re also becoming increasingly influential.

The Asian American electorate is the fastest growing portion of the voting population: Making up just 1.6 percent of the electorate in 1996, it ballooned to 3.4 percent of the electorate by 2012, and these effects are beginning to be felt on the ground. In the Virginia Senate race, for example, Asian Americans made up 3 percent of the electorate, larger than the margin of victory, meaning that they were influential in determining the eventual outcome.

“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are increasingly viewed as the margin of victory in key races,” said Rep. Judy Chu, chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. “Campaigns now send mailers in multiple languages, candidates attend Asian American and Pacific Islander events, and they even discuss topics like the Chinese Exclusion Act. This is a vote that is still very much in play.”

Across the polling done on the community, it’s striking that how little loyalty these voters have to Republicans or Democrats. A full 40 percent of the Asian American electorate doesn’t identify with either party.

“This is where Republicans hope they have an opening,” said Michelle Diggles, a senior political analyst at Third Way. “If Democrats want Asian Americans to support them in future elections, they need to be cautious, because these voters haven’t cemented as Democratic loyalists.”

This election cycle, Asian Americans swung to the right. Exit polling used by the major news organizations, showed that Asian Americans favored Republicans over Democrats in the midterms by a slight edge, 50 percent to 49 percent. This is a 10-percentage point increase in support for the GOP over the 2010 midterm elections.

The results are even more remarkable when you look at the 2012 presidential elections. Two years ago, Asian American voters voted for Obama over Romney by a ratio of more than 3-to-1.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’ organization committed early to targeting the Asian American community. “We took the time to campaign in their communities, to make sure that they went out and voted. We left no stone unturned,” said Jason Chung, a spokesman for the RNC.

After Republicans took control of the Senate and made gains in the House, Democrats were in a somber, reflective mood. There was no sugar coating it, one senior Democratic strategist said.

“In states where there is a sizable Asian American populations, those weren’t states where we were running as much of a robust field program,“ the strategist told the Beast. “We’ll need to do better in the coming cycles. … The Asian-American vote is expanding very quickly in some key states.”

Democrats were also quick to point to a different poll, conducted by Asian American Decisions

and taken on the days leading up to the election, that showed that Asian Americans preferred Democrats to Republicans by close to a two-to-one margin, 66 percent to 34 percent. This is still significantly down from the 2012 elections, but the numbers are not as bad for Democrats as the exit polling showed.

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Taeku Lee, the managing director of Asian American Decisions and a political science professor at UC Berkeley, said that the exit polling was generally reliable but “badly misses what’s happening with smaller segments of the electorate like Asian-Americans.”

The exit polling that major news networks rely on involved interviews with just 129 Asian Americans, Lee said, while his poll was a “group specific survey” that interviewed 1,150 Asian Americans across the country, in a variety of languages

The poll was dismissed by Republicans—who preferred the more favorable results shown in Election Day exit polling.

“The Edison Research exit poll used by all major news outlets reported that APAs supported Republican candidates over Democrats,” said Ninio Fetalvo, a spokesman for the RNC who specialized in outreach to the Asian American community. “On Election Day, Americans chose Republicans over a failed Obama and Democrat agenda.“

There’s no question Asian American voters swung towards the Republican Party in the midterms—the disagreement is over how much.

”There’s still a story there about how Asian Americans are less Democratic than they were in 2012,“ Lee acknowledged. But he warned: ”Asian Americans as a group are pretty much in play and up for grabs. It’s not the case that either party can take Asian American voters for granted.“